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Anne LegeneMar. 7, 2015

Thoughts on the French Chanson Part 2: Legacy

by Larry Wallach

As soon as the style of the classic French chanson crystalized, composers of many nationalities took it up and began developing it in a variety of directions.  Around 1540, its characteristics started to show up in part-songs by Italian, Flemish, and German composers.  The association of a nationality and language persisted in France where it became associated with an important group of poets called the ‘Pléiades’ including Pierre Ronsard, Joachim Du Bellay, and Jean Antoine de Baïf,  They in turn collaborated with later French composers such as Claude le Jeune to produce new forms of chansons that placed an even stronger emphasis on the metric characteristics of the poetry.  But the influence of the chanson was felt in every direction:  popular examples generated diverse off-spring in the form of instrumental variations (lute and keyboard elaborations), parody masses, motets, and church hymns (converting secular songs to sacred music), and purely instrumental works popular with Italian composers (creating the ‘canzona’ sometimes called ‘canzona alla franchese’ which eventually morphed into the baroque sonata).  A complex web of reciprocal influences can be heard between the chanson and the madrigal.  Originally, the chanson was fused with the frottola by French and Flemish composers, especially Verdelot and Arcadelt, to produce what we recognize as the early renaissance Italian madrigal.  As the next generation developed the madrigal into an elaborate interplay of words and music, it returned its influence to the chanson, and a madrigalesque chanson appeared, particularly in the works of Orlando di Lasso (aka Roland de Lassus). 

Ortiz - divisions on Doulce memoire, cornetto & harpsichord:

After 1600, the chanson’s legacy continues to mingle with Italian influences despite the French stubbornly insisting that their culture remained separate (and superior) to that of their southern neighbor.  Both cultures became obsessed with increasing the dramatic power of music in relation to language.  While Italy was turning the madrigal into the monody and developing its theatrical potential as opera, the French morphed the chanson into the ‘air de cour’ which eventually became a crucial ingredient in the uniquely French versions of musical theater.  In a contrasting development, Lutheran composers were making use of the simplicity and folk-potential of the classic chanson to help develop its repertory of church hymns with popular appeal.  Thus the potential of the modest popular genre expanded and infused the development of many other musical forms and made its contribution to the passage from the renaissance to the baroque and beyond.

Cabezon - Keyboard divisions on Doulce Memoire:


Recent posts:

EMW 2019:
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EMW 2018:
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Transformation, by Larry Wallach

Music: A Transformative Art, by Pamela Dellal

EMW 2017:
Music and nature, by Larry Wallach

Images of Nature in Dance, by Ken Pierce

EMW 2016:
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Playing for historical dance, by Jane Hershey

EMW 2015:
Language, by Pamela Dellal

Genre, by Larry Wallach

Legacy, by Larry Wallach

EMW 2014:
The Spanish Golden Age in the Netherlands,
by Anne Legêne

Sephardic Music, by Jay Rosenberg

Ensalada by Salomé Sandoval